Jambavati (IAST jāmbavatī) is one of the Ashtabharya, the eight principal queen-consorts of Hindu god Krishna, an avatar of the god Vishnu and the king of Dwarka – in the Dwapara Yuga (epoch). While she was married second to Krishna, Jambavati was third in the order of importance after Rukmini and Satyabhama, whom Krishna married third. She was the only daughter of the bear-king Jambavan. Krishna married her, when he defeated Jambavan to retrieve the stolen Syamantaka jewel.
Jambavati, a patronymic, means daughter of Jambavan. Sridhara, a commentator on the Bhagavata Purana, identifies her with Krishna's wife Rohini. However, another commentator Ratnagarbha disagrees. The Harivamsa also suggests that Rohini may be an alternate name of Jambavati. Jambavati is also given the epithets Narendraputri and Kapindraputri,
Jambavan or Jambavat appears in the Hindu epic Ramayana as an advisor of the vanara-king Sugriva, who aided Rama, Krishna's previous humanly form. Though he is often described here as a sloth bear, he is also identified with monkeys as his nature is similar or same as to that of gorillas, chimps, or even monkeys. In the epic Mahabharata, Jambavan is introduced as Jambavati's father. The Bhagavata Purana and the Harivamsa calls him the king of bears.
Visvanatha Chakravarti mentions that while narrating this story, few devotees associated Jambavati with the girl that Jambavan offers to Rama. However, Rama, who is already married and has taken a vow to marry only once, politely refuses. Jambavati would marry Rama in his next birth. So, Rama marries Jambavati in his birth as Krishna.
The marriage of Jambavati and Satyabhama to Krishna is closely linked to the story of Syamantaka, the precious diamond which is mentioned in the Vishnu Purana and the Bhagavata Purana. The precious jewel originally belonged to the Sun god Surya. Surya pleased with his devotee – the Yadava governor, Satrajit, gave him the dazzling diamond as a gift. When Satrajit returned to Krishna's capital Dwarka with the jewel, people mistook him for Surya because of his dazzling glory. Krishna asked him to present the jewel to Ugrasena, Mathura's king and Krishna's grandfather, but Satrajit did not comply.
Subsequently Satrajit presented Syamantaka to his brother Prasena, who was a counselor. Prasena who wore it, while hunting in the forest wearing it – was attacked by a lion. He was killed and the lion fled with the jewel. Shortly after, the lion – who entered Jambavan's mountain cave abode, was attacked by Jambavan, who killed it and took off with the booty. Jambavan gave it to his young son to play with. Following this incident, it was rumoured that Krishna who had an eye on the Syamantaka jewel, had Prasena murdered and had stolen the jewel. Krishna, who was furious with this false allegation then went out with other Yadavas – in search of Prasena, to establish his innocence by finding the jewel. He followed the trail that Prasena had taken and discovered the corpses of Prasena. They then followed the trail of the lion and reached the cave, where the dead lion was lying. Krishna told his routine to wait outside, while he entered alone. Krishna saw a child with the priceless jewel. As Krishna approached Jambavan's son, the child nanny cried aloud, alerting Jambavan. The two then engaged in a furious combat for 27/28 days (per Bhagavata Purana) or 21 days (per Vishnu Purana). As Jambavan gradually grew tired, he realised that Krishna was no one other than Vishnu, the almighty god whom he was fighting who was his benefactor Rama in the Treta yuga. In gratitude and devotion to Krishna who spared his life, Jambavan gave up his fight and returned the jewel to Krishna. Jambavan offered his maiden daughter Jambavati in marriage to Krishna along with the Syamantaka jewel. Krishna accepted the proposal and married Jambavati. They then moved to Dwarka.
Meanwhile Krishna's party had returned to kingdom presuming Krishna as dead, every member of the royal family had assembled to mourn his death as he was missing for a month. After returning to Dwarka, Krishna narrated the story of the recovery of the jewel and his marriage to Jambavati. He then returned the jewel to Satrajit in the presence of Ugrasena. Satrajit felt shy and ashamed to receive it as he had realised his error of judgement and his greediness. He then offered his daughter Satyabhama in marriage to Krishna along with the precious jewel. Krishna married Satyabhama, but refused the gem.
The Mahabharata and the Devi Bhagavata Purana narrate a story of the birth of Samba, Jambavati's chief son. Jambavati was unhappy when she realized that only she had not borne any children to Krishna while all other wives were blessed with many children. She approached Krishna to find a solution and to be blessed with a son like the handsome Pradyumna, Krishna's first-born son from his chief wife Rukmini. Then Krishna went to the hermitage of the sage Upamanyu in the Himalayas and as advised by the sage, he started to pray to the god Shiva. He did penance for six months in various postures; once holding a skull and a rod, then standing on one leg only in the next month and surviving on water only, during the third month he did penance standing on his toes and living on air only. Pleased with the austerities, Shiva finally appeared before Krishna as Samba, (Ardhanarishvara) the half-female, half-male form of the god, asked him to ask a boon. Krishna then sought a son from Jambavati, which was granted. A son was born soon thereafter who was named as Samba, the form Shiva had appeared before Krishna.
According to Bhagavata Purana, Jambavati was the mother of Samba, Sumitra, Purujit, Shatajit, Sahasrajit, Vijaya, Chitraketu, Vasuman, Dravida and Kratu. The Vishnu Purana says that she has many sons headed by Samba.
Samba grew up to be a nuisance to the Yadavas, Krishna's clan. His marriage to Lakshmana, the daughter of Duryodhana (the head of the Kauravas) ended up in his capture by Duryodhana. He was finally rescued by Krishna and his brother Balarama. Samba once pretended to be a pregnant woman and his friends asked some sages that who will the child. Offended by the mischief, the sages cursed that an iron pestle will be born to Samba and will destroy the Yadavas. The curse came true leading to the death of Krishna's clan.
She was best known to be a very close and dear companion of Lord Krishna's first wife Rukmini and was always engaged in a cold war with Satyabhama.
In puranic literature, Jambavati has been an epic character in Bhagavata Purana, Mahabharata, Harivamsa and Vishnu Purana. The legend of the fight between Jambavantha and Lord Krishna's over the Samanthakamani has been prominently featured. Even the great ruler of the kingdom of Vijayanagara, Krishnadevaraya, composed a drama called the Jambava Kalyanam. Ekaramantha wrote a poem with the theme Jambavati Parinayam (meaning: Jambavati’s marriage).